I don’t think I’ll ever fully stop feeling angry about what this pandemic has taken from us collectively. The loss of lives and livelihoods brings the deepest sense of absence, but even minor acts once performed thoughtlessly feel painfully missing, too. Like, it’s so little, so simple and so stupid, but can I hug my family? My friends?
Even more depressing than the need to ask the question itself is the answer: No, you can’t really hug your loved ones with whom you don’t live. Nobody is going to stop you, and there are contexts in which doing so would be low risk, but if you’re looking for one, singular answer to the question of hugging, it’s no.
Some nuance does exist, though. Have you remained at home for two weeks prior to seeing a family member who you trust has done the same? It’s probably safe to hug. Is your desire to make the hug your sole interaction, arriving right before the hug and leaving immediately after? Though the CDC broadly states to keep six feet of distance in order to stay safe, their information on contact tracing further specifies that “close contact” is typically considered to be less than six feet of distance between two people for 15 minutes or more. Further, this 15 minutes is cumulative — if someone spends five minutes in close contact with someone with COVID-19 in the morning and 10 minutes with a different person with COVID-19 in the evening, that would amount to enough exposure to catch the virus. Assuming the contact during a hug only lasts around 10 seconds, the risk may be low.
But neither of those situations is perfectly reliable. It’s still within the realm of possibility that the virus could be spread through an isolated hug alone, or that the little errands someone who is otherwise “quarantined” at home might run could have caused them to be exposed.
What’s important to consider, then, is one’s own tolerance for risk and the consequences of hugging. Physical touch is a biological necessity. When we lack physical contact, our brains can struggle to produce serotonin. Our immune systems can suffer, and we can become depressed. It can even be deadly. Thus, if strategizing a way to safely hug is essential to you, that’s understandable. Wear a mask, stay outdoors and keep the interaction as brief as possible. And again, quarantine yourself before and after.
If you can skip the hugs, though, you should. Cases continue to reach their highest levels, and it’s imperative that we once more return to the levels of physical isolation and safety we practiced early in the pandemic. To that end, whether you can hug your family is almost beside the point — there’s a good chance you shouldn’t even be seeing your family in person, at all. What you do is ultimately up to you, but plan accordingly. A hug is not worth getting COVID-19 for.